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THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH AND HOMOSEXUALITY

The split in the Anglican Communion.
Other activities during 2005 & 2006.

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Quotation:

bullet"We as bishops are not of a common mind about issues concerning human sexuality. Different points of view on these matters also exist within our dioceses and congregations." The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, from their document: "Caring For All The Churches" 1

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Partial schism in the Anglican Communion:

The Anglican Communion had successfully survived many stressors in its lifetime:

bulletIn the 19th century, they were able to remain intact during debates over the morality of human slavery.
bulletIn the 20th century, it handled crises over whether married couples should be allowed to control their family size, and whether women should be considered for ordination.
bulletIn the early 21st century, two crises lead to a split in the Communion:
bulletThe Episcopal Church, USA elected a new bishop of New Hampshire who is in a loving, committed relationship with another man.
bulletThe Westminster Diocese of the Anglican Church of Canada has held public rituals recognizing loving committed relationships of same-sex couples.

Almost all of the heads of the 38 Anglican Provinces (national churches) met during 2005-FEB. The primates, in effect, rejected the Windsor Report. For the first time in history, they "intervened in other provinces and requested that" 2 the Episcopal Church, USA and the Anglican Church of Canada  withdraw from the Anglican Consultative Council until the next Lambeth Conference of 2008. This is the key body which facilitates contact among the 38 provinces. More details

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Initial responses to the partial schism:

bulletThe Rt. Rev. Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh and moderator of the conservative Anglican Communion Network (ACN) issued a press statement on MAR-04, stating: "Let me assure you that the Primates of the Anglican Communion have decisively addressed theological innovations contrary to Anglican teaching and practice and have intervened in our situation in a powerful way. The Primates are clear in upholding the tenets of Lambeth 1.10 as the Communion’s teaching on human sexuality. They also recognize, however, that sexuality is only the presenting symptom. The core disease is a challenge to the authority of Scripture and received Christian teaching."
bulletRev. John Guernsey, ACN dean of the Mid-Atlantic Convocation issued a press statement on MAR-03 on behalf of ACN deans: "The landscape of the Communion has been changed radically by the Primates."
bulletBishop Charles Jenkins, Head of Southeast Louisiana Diocese was quoted as saying: "...[W]e want to be loyal Episcopalians and loyal Anglicans. We don’t want an either-or situation thrust before us. I think what we’re going to have to find is a more excellent way, which we don’t yet know."
bulletRev. William L. Murdoch, New England dean of the ACN, wrote: "The spin -– that things aren’t so bad, and this is not that big a deal –- is not going to work. The fracture of the Anglican Communion is still very much a great and terrible threat upon us right now." 1
bulletAccording to the Washington Post: "While U.S. bishops have repeatedly called for dialogue with other churches, they have given no indication that they are prepared to back down in the dispute. In a statement, Presiding Bishop Frank T. Griswold said that the Episcopal Church had 'sought to act with integrity.' Griswold told the BBC that Robinson's appointment as bishop of New Hampshire had been 'right and proper.' U.S. church officials questioned whether the other church leaders had the right to request that the American church withdraw from the consultative council, which is due to meet in June in the English town of Nottingham. An Episcopal Church spokeswoman, Rev. Jan Nunley, said such a step should properly be taken by the consultative council itself." 3

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Actions taken by the Episcopal Church:

In mid-2005-MAR, the Bishops of the denomination held a six-day retreat near Houston, TX. They produced a Covenant Statement in which they announced two decisions:

bulletThey have imposed a one-year ban on the approval of new bishops. This will continue until the 2006 General Convention in Columbus, OH. They said that this "extraordinary action" was needed to ease the crisis within the Anglican Communion after the election of Bishop Robinson -- a gay man in a committed relationship -- as bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire.
bulletThey also promised to not authorize "public rites" for the blessing of same-sex couples for at least one year. They did not ban such ceremonies held in private. 4

On 2005-APR-13, the Executive Council announced that they will refrain from from officially participating in the Anglican Consultative Council meeting in Nottingham which is scheduled for 2005-June. However, they will still send their delegation. Their statement said: "In the spirit of the Covenant Statement recently adopted by our House of Bishops, we voluntarily withdraw our members from official participation in the ACC as it meets in Nottingham. As an expression of our desire 'to bear one another's burdens' (Galatians 6:2) we are asking our members to be present at the meeting to listen to reports on the life and ministry we share across the Communion and to be available for conversation and consultation." This appears to be the same position as was taken by the Anglican Church of Canada.

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2005-APR-05: Bishop Robinson attacked for views on Jesus:

Bishop Gene Robinson is the first openly-gay bishop of the Episcopal Church, USA. In a forum on FEB-13 at Christ Church in Hamilton MA, he commented that the nuclear family is a relatively new idea and that Jesus led a nontraditional life in Palestine. He is reported to have said:

"Interestingly enough, in this day of traditional family values and so on, this man that we follow ... was single as far as we know; who traveled with a bunch of men, although there were lots of women around; who had a disciple who was known as 'the one whom Jesus loved'; who said 'my family is not my mother and father, my family are those who do the will of God' -- none of us like those harsh words. That's who Jesus is, that's who he was, at least in his earthly life."

He says that he has recently been "flooded with angry messages" from people who appear to have misinterpreted his statement; they apparently believe that Robinson was implying that Jesus was gay and/or that he was sexually active. Robinson said: "I can assure you with absolute certainty that was not my implication, and certainly not anything I ever said." 4

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Bishops' meeting scheduled for 2005-JUL-18:

An ad-hoc committee of ten conservative and ten liberal Episcopal bishops will hold a five-day meeting in Los Angeles, CA. The hold conflicting views over allowing the ordination and continuing service of sexually active homosexuals. It is billed as a continuation of their Houston meeting in 2005-MAR. Their goal will be to attempt to reconcile their differences.

Our opinion: The bishops, Anglican laity, members and clergy from other religions and the rest of the North American population are deeply divided over the causes, nature, morality, and ethics of homosexual activity and homosexual orientation. Conservatives tend to approach the question using their religion's holy text and historical teachings as the basis for their beliefs. Liberals tend to approach the question from the standpoint of human sexuality research and human rights. These two paths lead to opposing conclusions. Our personal experiences in communication and attempts at dialogue on homosexuality leads us to believe that it is extremely doubtful that the bishops will be able to resolve their differences. Some faiths have been able to adopt a local option plan in which individuals have agreed to keep the denomination together, while disagreeing to disagree. They allow individual churches or geographical areas to either accept or reject ordination of sexually active homosexuals. This does not seem to be an option for the Episcopal Church. End of opinion.

The Washington Times reported a statement by retired Bishop Stephen Jecko of the Florida Diocese. He said that if the differences between liberals and conservatives are "irreconcilable" then the purpose of the meeting will switch to engineering a breakup of the Province without triggering lawsuits that could cost millions of dollars. He said: "It'll be who gets the money and who gets the kids. I hope it will be an amicable divorce....Those of us on the [theologically] orthodox side have no interest in going to court." Substantial assets would be involved in any split. The Times reports that the 7,220 parishes in the U.S. hold billions of dollars in assets.

However, this was contradicted by the meeting hosts: Bishop Jon Bruno and his Los Angeles diocese. Diocese spokesperson Janet Kawamoto said: "It's just a meeting among bishops of different ideologies who just want to get together and discuss things among themselves. Everything else is pretty much not public. They are working together, and they don't think it's necessary to publicize any of it."

Church rules require that a parish that leaves the Episcopal Church must abandon its property and assets. Several dioceses have launched lawsuits to challenge these canon laws. Three parishes in the Diocese of Los Angeles have lawsuits pending in Orange County Superior Court. Wicks Stephens, legal adviser for the Anglican Communion Network (ACN), said that additional lawsuits are planned. He said: "A strong team of clergy, laity and lawyers are seeking to prepare for the times ahead, if some sort of advance settlement is not worked out. I'd hope sanity would prevail as lawsuits are not the best way to resolve church conflicts." 2

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2006-MAR-17: House of Bishops meeting:

The House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church, USA held their spring retreat starting on MAR-17 at the Kanuga Camp and Conference Center in North Carolina. It was a six day closed-door session. During one day, they spent time with theologians from other parts of the world. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold said, after the meeting:

"I am very confident as we look ahead to June that the bishops, together with the deputies, will make wise and faithful decisions that will serve the gospel. I pray that what we do will be a blessing both to our Church and to our brothers and sisters across the Anglican Communion." 5

The Rt. Rev. John L. Rabb, Bishop suffragan of Maryland, suggested that a pastoral letter be issued on a topic on which all of the bishops can agree: the sin of racism. The timing was certainly fitting, because the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination occurred on 2006-MAR-21 during their meeting.

The intent is that the letter be read to each Anglican congregation. It says in part:

"Racism is a radical affront to the good gift of God, both in the creation described in Genesis, and in the reality of the incarnation. If we judge one class or race or gender better than another, we violate that desire which God has made. And when our social and cultural systems exacerbate or codify such judgments, we do violence to that which God has made." 6

It uses important words and phrases like:

bulletJustice,
bulletAll,
bulletShalom,
bulletDiversity,
bullet"...strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being,"
bullet"Empower all members of God's human family."
bullet"...discover the riches of God's diverse creation, especially in those who differ from us."
bullet"mission of justice, reconciliation, and unity."
bullet"our commitment to the fundamental covenant each of us entered into at the moment of our baptism."

However, when the letter refers to specific types of discrimination, they include race, gender, classism, and national origins. Discrimination based on sexual orientation became the 800 pound (360 kg) gorilla in the room: all the bishops were undoubtedly very much sensitized to its overwhelming presence, but it was ignored. Some Anglicans might find this quite offensive. Instead of being a unifying step, the letter may turn out to be divisive.

Bishop Griswold commented on the upcoming 75th General Convention:

"I reminded the bishops that before meetings of the General Convention there are always all sorts of predictions of what will happen. Therefore it is very important that we stay centered and focused on Christ’s mission to our broken world." 5

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2006-APR-04: Bishop of Arizona calls for civility:

The Rt. Rev. Kirk Stevan Smith, the Bishop of Arizona, was surprised when an internal communication, a weekly "E-pistle" received a very large circulation outside his diocese. In particular, he was shocked by "the vulgar language some outside his diocese used in responding." He wrote:

"I’ve been told the Church often runs on negative energy, but it seems to me sometimes, we have reached new lows when it comes to 'demonizing' those whom we see as our opponents. At the same time, our name-calling skills have been sharpened." 7

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2006-MAY-06: Election of Rev. Canon Barry Beisner

Five priests were nominated to be bishop elect of Northern California. Two of them live in loving committed relationships with same-sex partners. One of the remaining three, Rev. Canon Barry Beisner, canon to the ordinary in the Diocese of Northern California was elected on the fourth ballot. He is married to a woman. Still, conservative members and groups in the Episcopal Church, USA, and overseas church leaders in the Anglican Communion have expressed concern about his election. They suggest that it would "render meaningless approval of [the Episcopal Church, US's] Resolution A161." 8

Resolution A161 states, in part:

"That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church regrets the extent to which we have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly, we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion." 9

They did not define precisely what the phrase "manner of life" means.

It is scheduled to be approved at the 2006-JUN General Convention. It falls far short of the request by the Anglican Communion for an apology which would include an admission that their behavior in confirming Bishop Robinson's election and in not absolutely forbidding the recognizing of same-sex unions was a sinful error.

Canon Beisner has been divorced twice and married three times. His first marriage was at the age of 19. He said that his wife abandoned him and their son. His second marriage lasted sixteen years. They had two children. He would not give the reasons for the marriage breakdown, other than to say: "What I can say is that I do know first hand, the death of a relationship. I know that divorce whenever or however it comes about is always a tragedy. It is a failure rooted in human sinfulness." In 1998, he married his third wife after having obtained permission from his bishop.

Overseas, within the "Global South" most provinces of the Anglican Communion regard remarriage after divorce as adultery -- no matter what the reason for the marriage breakdown was. Divorced clergy are dismissed. It is only in the Episcopal Church, USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Church in Wales that divorced and remarried clergy have been permitted as bishops.

Beisner said that the diocese has "experienced me as someone that they would like to have as pastor. I think I am certainly a better pastor, I know I was certainly a better parish pastor, for having lived through the death of a marriage."

Canon 22 of Title III requires that any election to bishop within 120 days of a General Convention must be confirmed by the House of Deputies and House of Bishops. Thus, these Houses must confirm his election at the General Convention in 2006-JUN. If approved, Canon Beisner will be the priest who was divorced twice and married three times to be consecrated as an Anglican bishop.

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "AAC Weekly Update," American Anglican Council, 2005-MAR-04.
  2. Julia Duin, "Warring Anglicans talk 'divorce'," The Washington Times, 2005-JUN-09, at: http://www.washingtontimes.com/
  3. Michael Dobbs, "Episcopalians Affirm Pro-Gay View. Church's North American Members Back Same-Sex Unions," Washington Post, 2005-FEB-26, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  4. "Episcopal clerics impose moratorium on new bishops," The Toronto Star, 2005-MAR-17, Page A20.
  5. "Presiding Bishop Encouraged by Bishops' Meeting," The Living Church, 2006-MAR-29, at: http://www.livingchurch.org/
  6. Text of the pastoral letter, English version: "The Sin of Racism: A Call to Covenant. A Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church," 2006-MAR, is online at the Episcopal News Service, at: http://www.ecusa.anglican.org/ It is also available in Spanish at: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/
  7. "Bishop of Arizona Calls for Civil, 'Religious' Discourse," The Living Church, 2006-APR-04, at: http://www.livingchurch.org/
  8. "Bishop-elect of Northern California Speaks About Marriage and Divorce," The Living Church, 2006-MAR-06, at: http://www.livingchurch.org/
  9. "Original Test: Resolution 161," Integrity USA, at: http://www.integrityusa.org/

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Copyright © 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-JUN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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